Servitenviertel – Backstreets for Émigrés

Grätzl: (Viennese dialect) a neighbourhood in Vienna contained by subjective boundaries and a coherent identity

The heart of the Servitenviertel Grätzl is Berggasse, which Freud shares with Café Berg | Photo: David Reali

sigmund freud museum

The heart of the Servitenviertel Grätzl is Berggasse, which Freud shares with Café Berg | Photo: David Reali

From the U-Bahn at Schottentor and onwards up Liechtensteinstraße, Vienna begins to change. Away from the busy intersection, it is suddenly peaceful, except for the muffled footsteps of passers-by and the distant hum of the cars from the Ring.

This is the Servitenviertel – lying between the Währinger Straße to the south, Roßauer Lände to the north, and Schottenring and Alserbachstraße on its flanks – once an area made out of small islands separated by side-streams of the Danube.

This is a neighbourhood where the architecture is full of stories: you get to lounge on the Strudelhofstiege like the jeunesse dorée of Heimito von Doderer’s famed novel, or stroll with the ghosts of princes in the gardens of the Liechtenstein Palais. Along the sunny Porzellangasse – once the home of Hollywood producer Eric Pleskow, Israeli journalist Ari Rath (see Kaffeehaus, p. 32 of Nov 2012 TVR) and many others of the city’s famed émigré artists and intellectuals – baroque facades gleam in fresh coats of grey, yellow, light blue and poppy red. Chic shops and trendy restaurants have elbowed their way in between the shoemaker, apothecary or grocery store and the beloved Beisl and Gasthäuser, where locals meet after a show at the Schauspielhaus or the Theater Center Forum.

This is a neighbourhood of students and families, actors and academics, business types and retirees, as well as the largest French community in the city – with the Lycée Francais just down the way.


Name-dropping on Berggasse

Berggasse runs through the heart of the Viertel, with a few must-see stops on the way down to the Danube Canal.

At No. 8, is the very comfortable Café Berg, full of readers and writers and general academic chat. It claims to be serving the gay and lesbian community, but it’s very understated and at least one neighbour claims to have hung out there for years before he noticed. And adjoining is the well hidden, but very popular bookshop, Löwenherz. Founded in June 1993, this store has thrived serving the same loyal crowd, and quadrupled its stock to some 12,000 titles, including books, CDs, DVDs, magazines, and specialized literature on transgender lifestyles.

Farther down at No. 17 is Café Freud, a spiffed-up version of a traditional Viennese Kaffeehaus, with light flooding in the tall windows, an excellent pool table in the backroom and walls papered with concert and exhibition posters. It has its regulars, too, but in the afternoons, it is mainly Sigmund Freud museum-goers sampling the Apfelstrudel, Gugelhupf, or a quick kleiner Brauner. It also hosts the occasional philosophy-Stammtisch.

Freud himself lived next door from 1891-1938, nearly his entire professional career. Today, his home at Berggasse 19 is not only a museum but also a lecture hall, and is affiliated with the Sigmund Freud University. At the entrance, a few brass plaques guide you to apartments No. 5 and 8, the museum’s library and director’s office. The plaque for No. 11 reads Kafka. The Kafka? The one who shared Freud’s take on analysing the human psyche, and even reflected it in his famed The Judgement? Inside and up the stairs, all is revealed: It’s Gertrude Kafka. Oh well.

Once inside the museum, there’s a lot to discover. For instance, the fact that Freud considered novelist Arthur Schnitzler as his literary Doppelgänger, a writer whose writing he not only admired, but envied. There’s also an amazing little film taken in 1938 in Freud’s garden in Pötzleinsdorf shortly before he fled with his daughter for London. Here you see him walking around, talking, lounging – the Great Man en famille on a summer afternoon.


Past and present blending

The Viertel is named for the Servitenkirche – the church of the Servite Order – that in 1638 was granted permission to found a monastery in Vienna. This lovely church at Servitengasse 9 was completed a decade later and is considered the centre of the Grätzl and one of its main tourist sites.

The Servitenviertel also allows a glimpse of one of the oldest Jewish retirement communities. From the mid-16th century until 1972, Seegasse 9 used to be both a residence for the elderly and a hospital. In the backyard, away from the eyes of the passers-by, it hides the oldest Jewish cemetery in Vienna.

While parts of the neighbourhood have kept the spirit of the past, others have given up some of their historical charm to the pace of a modern era. Particularly interesting is the old-meets-new-meets-different mix of restaurants and coffeehouses – from Middle Eastern and Asian cuisines to Italian and traditional Austrian food-blending into the overall feel.

One such example is Suppenwirtschaft in Servitengasse, one of the smallest restaurants in the neighbourhood, with two tables on each side of the entrance. This friendly little place has a number of excellent soups, salads, and curry, ranging from €4-6, and is a favourite among the younger crowd, both students and working people. You’ll find it right across from the Servitenkirche, only one in a number of appealing watering holes blending into scene along the cobbled pedestrian street.

Once an island, perhaps, always an island: Servitenviertel is its own world.

Luckily for us.

9., Porzellangasse 19

9., Servitengasse 6

9., Servitengasse 9

Café Berg
9., Berggasse 8

Café Freud
9., Berggasse 17 

Sigmund Freud Museum
9., Berggasse 19

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